10 facts about female physicians

Almost always when we talk about physicians (within FiercePracticeManagement and in general), we mean the profession as a whole. Yet about one-third of the physicians in the United States are women--up from 26 percent in 2012 and just 12 percent in 1981, according to the Physicians Foundation Biennial Physician Survey.

And while it's important not to generalize, there are statistical differences between men and women's experience as doctors. Taken alone, some of the data seem less noteworthy than others. But when pieced together (imperfectly, as derived from various sources), an interesting picture develops. Next time you're tempted to lump both genders together in one pot, consider the following:

  1. Thirty-five percent of female physicians say they are overextended and overworked, compared to 30 percent of males.
  2. Half of female physicians are likely to spend 16 minutes or more with a patient, compared to 42 percent of males. What's more, female physicians' communication style tends to be more patient-centered.
  3. Female doctors have a better record of persuading patients to make lifestyle changes. One study found that men with male doctors were nearly four times more likely than men with female doctors to disagree with them about nutrition; men with male doctors were twice as likely to disagree about exercise; and female patients agreed with male doctors about weight-loss advice only 85.5 percent of the time, compared to 93 percent of the time with female doctors.
  4. Female physicians earn significantly less than their male counterparts, with the gap now exceeding $56,000 per year. Pay disparities persist even in studies controlled for specialty, work hours and other factors.
  5. Seventy-one percent of women physicians are the breadwinners in their family, earning 75 percent or more of their family's household income, according to a 2015 report from AMA Insurance.
  6. Female physicians have higher rates of divorce than male physicians overall. Odds of divorce rise further among women who work more than 40 hours per week.
  7. On average, 43 percent of female physicians are working mothers with children under 18 at home, noted the AMA report.
  8. Married female physician-researchers with children spend 8.5 more hours per week on parenting and domestic activities than their male counterparts, according to a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine.
  9. Maternity leave (36 percent), personal sick leave (21 percent) and unemployment (18 percent) are the three most common income disrupters for women physicians, according to AMA Insurance.
  10. Women (not limited to physicians) make up only 25 percent of speakers at healthcare conferences.

Being a woman, I can't honestly say the lens through I view these numbers isn't a little biased. Though I'm not a physician, I can relate to the pressure to give 100 percent to professional and family priorities--and the pride in pulling it off. But even looking at this list as objectively as possible, isn't it fair to say something has to give?

The above numbers illustrate a growing sub-group of professionals who succeed in delivering results for others and functioning at an extraordinary level. But signs of wear peek through. Even if we can't scientifically correlate professional pressures with divorce rates, it's hard to deny that there might be a few reasons more women physicians say they're overworked. (And I can't prove it, but women's threshold for admitting overwork may be on a different continuum than some men's.)

At any rate, the differences are worth a look, and the time to consider whether you provide physicians of each gender with the same unique rewards and benefits that they provide to your practice and its patients. - Deb (@PracticeMgt)

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